A Journey To Paja
by George Chevalier

For a little boy of four or five an auto trip in the Canal Zone of 1929-30 was a thrilling adventure. Narrow high crowned roads with driving on the left and speeds I think were 15MPH in town and 25MPH out in the open, but that was Dads problem. I sat in that open sided Chevrolet touring car bug eyed with excitement and absorbed every moment of it.

At that time we lived in Ancon in a cottage 3 or 4 down from the Tivoli Hotel and to go down the Canal line we took the one road available for automobiles. There was no Gaillard Highway at that time so we started the trip by entering the area that later became PAD and drove through grassland until reaching the area of the later Curundu Jr.Hi. Here we turned left and crossed the north edge of Albrook Field and I could see the black metal hanger type bldg., the Army used ,sitting out in the middle of the hopefully dry area they were using for landings and takeoffs. When Albrook was finally built this old hanger it was moved in next to the theater and became the Base Gym.

Leaving the actual field by a section of the road that was to be the old main street of Albrook we arrived near where the Army Commy is today and then bearing right the road climbed up along the ridge and wound through the Army housing of Corozal before dropping down to lower ground by the Corozal RR Station. Then straight out,after stopping for fresh cinnamon buns at a little retail outlet run by the Army cooks and bakers school, to past what became Morgans Gardens.

After crossing a small river the road bent right and up a rise into Ft. Clayton passing the stables for the 33rd Inf. mules used in their wagon trains and then passing down the backside of one of the long barracks. Approaching the Lighthouse the road dipped down and ran straight a ways before winding through the trees to the top of Miraflores Hill. The lower section of the road would later have the new barracks that I would work on putting in electrical fixtures before the US entered the War.

Winding down the backside of the hill we passed a large Quipo Tree as we rode through the Silver Town of Red Tank. One apartment building was so huge it was called the "Titanic" and I believe it housed 48 families. A short ways later we rose up into Pedro Miguel turning left over the railroad tracks and slowly working over to the side of the Locks. Getting in line with other vehicles we were brought on board a modest size barge with a small tug boat along side to propel it out and around to a ramp on the West Bank. There had been a swinging pontoon bridge at Paraiso, installed in 1913, but then removed after a number of years in favor of our barge while construction of a ferry at La Boca was in progress and finished in 1932.

Now down the old road that had served all the West Bank construction towns we passed what had been Culebra with little left to show it had existed and then in the middle of what had been Empire we turned left down an old main drag and now climbing up a winding road to enter the jungle growth. I recall one of the old wooden buildings still standing up on the high ground. It was slowly rotting and collapsing and vegetation seemed to consume it and my Dad said it had been I believe the Comptrollers Office.

The road now wound through dense jungle that seemed cool and had my attention as I ogled and looked for strange things that might scare me. Finally at those slow speeds we arrived at the small settlement of Paja where Dad announced we would go no further that day. With no ferry at La Boca there was no road to Arraijan and what there was of that was very small and out of touch with the Zone. From Paja the existing road went on to Chorrera and that was considered a real journey in those days.

After the ferry and route to Arraijan had been opened the little barge ferry went out of use and traffic to Paja faded away with the road going to ruin and the jungle again taking over. As I recall those trips and compare both routes there is no doubt in my memory that the trip to Paja was by far the best and most thrilling.

George C.